Reps Divided Over Sharing Formula For N100bn Constituency Projects
There were indications yesterday that members of the House of Representatives and Principal Officers of the House may be in for a big showdown over the sharing formula of budgetary allocation of N100 billion for constituency projects.
Leadership gathered that aggrieved members of the House want a reversal of the current system of 60 per cent allotted to the Principal Officers and 40 per cent for other members, which they consider unfair and insensitive.
The House has however faulted the position of the aggrieved members, insisting that principal officers get only 40 per cent of the allocation and not 60 per cent as stated by the aggrieved House members.
Dependable sources in the know, who spoke to our correspondent on the development, disclosed that members of the Green Chamber, after a meeting yesterday, presented their unanimous position to Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, seeking a reversal of the sharing formula.
It was, however, not clear whether or not the Speaker and other principal officers yielded to the demand, but one of the principal officers who confided in Leadership described the demand as insensitive.
The lawmaker who does not want his name in print since he was not officially authorised to speak on the matter described the proposal as blackmail, saying it was unfortunate that members would bow to pressure to blackmail the House leadership over the matter.
“The gang-up is unprecedented, it is unfortunate that members have to resort to blackmail because of what has happened,” he said.
He noted that it was wrong for the lawmakers to assume that all members are equal when the principal officers spent huge funds to contest election into their various positions.
“See, it is wrong to say that we are all equal. Others only contested elections to get to the House of Representatives, while we contested another election and spent millions to become principal officers,” he contended.
Another principal officer who spoke to Leadership via telephone described the position of the members as the highest level of greed.
The lawmaker who also spoke on condition of anonymity argued that principal officers were not in the membership of any committee and as such, do not benefit from whatever other members benefit from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), as well as corporate organisations operating under their committees.
He said, “I don’t have a position on the matter. Once the Speaker agrees to their terms, there is nothing the rest of us can do, but it shows how greedy they are. Many of them do very wrong things as committee chairmen, but no one questions them. They don’t even make returns to anyone yet they are complaining about constituency projects.
“With the way they are handling this issue, nobody will want to be elected as principal officer because it won’t be attractive, and the expectation is huge.”
When contacted, spokesperson of the House, Abdulrazak Namdas, confirmed the development to LEADERSHIP but said the House would find a common position on the issue.
He said that by convention, members get 60 per cent of the constituency projects, while the remaining 40 per cent goes to the principal officers.
Namdas further explained that members now query the 40 per cent allotted to the present principal officers because of allegations levelled against the House leadership by former chairman of the House committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin.
“By convention, since 1999, principal officers get 40 per cent, while other members get 60 per cent. It is this 40 per cent that members now query in-line with the allegations levelled against the House leadership by Abdulmumini.
“But we have concluded the budget; so, there is no story about it yet. The budget will still come to the plenary and we will all agree,” Namdas said.
The issue of constituency projects has remained controversial. Critics have described it as a conduit pipe for siphoning public funds.
Lawmakers use the constituency fund for construction of amenities such as schools, health centres, feeder roads and provision of empowerment items. The projects are usually put in the budget under subheads of ministries and agencies that they supervise, for execution.
In 2016, the members of the National Assembly withheld approval of some requests from the executive following the latter’s refusal to release money for constituency projects. Some of the legislative approvals that suffered delay include the request for the $30 billion external borrowing plan, the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), and virement of N180 billion in the 2016 budget.
The government was said to have later released the funds through some of its ministries, departments and agencies.
LEADERSHIP recalls that to bring an end to the controversy over constituency projects, the National Assembly sought to legalise it through a bill named the ‘Constituency Projects Bill, 2016’ sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra).
The bill which seeks to set aside 20 per cent of the country’s annual budget for constituency projects scaled second reading at the Senate last year.
The bill, if passed into law, would grant legal backing to the provision for constituency projects in the annual budget of the Federation by a minimum of 20%.
“One of the unique features of our democratic journey so far is the concept of ‘Constituency Projects’. Available statistics show that 70 per cent of Nigerians live in the rural areas and the intention of the bill is to ensure that good governance is delivered to these crucial areas.
“The bill is also intended to correct the top-bottom approach of governance and replace it with the bottom top approach. Constituency project in recent time is one of the ways to attract federal presence to our people,” Oduah had said, in defence of the bill.
According to her, but for the constituency projects, majority of federal constituencies would not have a single federal project due to lopsided nature of project allocation in the budget.
“The constituency project is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. There are similar mechanisms in other developing countries. For instance, the constituency development fund has been institutionalized in Kenya, Uganda, India and Tanzania,” she emphasised.
In his contribution to the debate, chief whip of the Senate, Senator Olusola Adeyeye advised that the 20 per cent should be based on capital projects.
“This is not money given to Senators or Reps, it is money meant for specific projects. At the moment, it is N100 billion for 109 Senatorial Districts and 360 Federal constituencies. That’s 1.5 percent of the Federal Budget,” he said.